Thursday, June 13, 2019

Cycling In St. Petersburg (Велоспорт в Санкт-Петербург)

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Cycling In St. Petersburg (Велоспорт в Санкт-Петербург)
St. Petersburg, Russia: Wednesday, 19th May 2019
Guided cycling tour in St. Petersburg:
Cycling Distance: 18km.     |     Level: Easy
Time : 11:00am to 2:20pm
Time Taken : 3 hrs. 20 mins. (Including stops at various places of interest and lots of photo opportunities).

Route Recommendations :
1. Traffic Directions!
    Traffic in Russia, is left-hand drive, so cycle on the right when on the road. Same thing applies when crossing the road, take note of the direction in which traffic is approaching from!
2. Route & Traffic Conditions  
    Traffic at the suburbs are lighter, whilst near St. Petersburg's city centre it gets rather heavy. However, much of the route were on wide pavements, quiter suburb roads, sometimes cutting through public housing & parks. It is a fairly flat route. Often we crossed busy roads using pedestrian crossings, do note that it is the practice to alight and push bikes at these crossings.

3. Weather
     May is officially the spring season in St. Petersburg. With all the sludge cleared, the month sees the arrival of new leaves and grass, and flowers blooming in full swing.
The temperature in St. Petersburg is usually cooler and moodier, but today was different. We were in luck, it was a beautiful sunny day with average morning temperature at a comfortable15°C. Although we were at the edge of the Gulf of Finland (Фи́нский зали́в, Finskiy zaliv) arm of the Baltic Sea, wind speed was just at 15 kph.
     Useful weather forecast sites for the Russia is AccuWeather. For more detailed weather, including cloud cover and wind speed, use Weatherspark and Ventusky.

4. Points of Interests
    The route is that of the guided Weekend Cycling Tour offered by Peters Walk starting from the Berthold Center (GPS: 59.92823, 30.31236). Some of the places of interest covered or passed by were:
1. Saint Isaac’s Square (Исаа́киевская пло́щадь, Isaakiyevskaya Ploshchad) (GPS: 59.93313, 30.30730); known as Vorovsky Square (Площадь Воровского).
2. St. Isaac's Cathedral (Исаа́киевский Собо́р, Isaakievskiy Sobor) (GPS: 59.9339, 30.30648).
3. Senate Square (Сенатская площадь) (GPS: 59.93637, 30.30223).
4. The Bronze Horseman (Медный всадник, literally "copper horseman") (GPS: 59.93637, 30.30223) - Statue of Peter the Great (Пётр Вели́кий, Pyotr Velikiy).
5. New Holland Island (Новая Голландия) (GPS: 59.92899, 30.28999).
6. Riverfront views from Vasilievsky Island (Васи́льевский о́стров) 
7. Historical quarters around Vasilievsky Island (GPS: 59.92899, 30.28999).
8. Petrogradsky Island (Петроградский остров, Okrug Petrovskiy) (GPS: 59.9625, 30.30222), viewed from the Petrograd side, and its many hidden wonders.
9. Optina Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin (Церковь Успения Пресвятой Богородицы, Tserkov' Uspeniya Presvyatoy Bogoroditsy) (GPS: 59.93347, 30.27566).
10. Quay With Sphinx (GPS: 59.93695, 30.29074).
11. St. Andrew's Cathedral (Андреевский собор) (GPS: 59.93980, 30.28310).
12. Old Saint Petersburg Stock Exchange (Здание Биржи, Zdaniye Birzhi) (GPS: 59.94347, 30.30459).
13. Rostral Columns (Ростральная колонна, Rostral'naya Kolonna) (GPS: 59.94310, 30.30686).
13. Peter & Paul Fortress (Петропавловская крепость) (GPS: 59.95000, 30.31667).
14. Trinity Bridge (Тро́ицкий мост, Troitskiy Most) (GPS: 59.94863, 30.32736), and the views from it of the Neva River (Нева́) and Malaya Neva River (Ма́лая Нева́, Little Neva).
15. Field of Mars (Ма́рсово по́ле) (GPS: 59.94405, 30.33182).
16. Church of Saviour on Spilled Blood (Церковь Спаса на Крови, Tserkovʹ Spasa na Krovi) (GPS: 59.94010, 30.32889).
17. The Atlanty Statues (Атланты) (GPS: 59.94118, 30.31759), where people touch the bronze statues for good luck.
18. Kazan Cathedral (Каза́нский кафедра́льный собо́р, Kazanskiy Kafedralniy Sobor), also known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan (GPS: 59.93420, 30.32452).
19. Dom Knigi (Дом книги) (GPS: ), also renown as the Singer Co. Building.

I love cycling and even when I am on a tour with non-cycling friends, I try to take some time off from them to go scratch my itchy cycling legs. This time we were on a tour of Russia, our first time in the country and were most enchanted by it's beautiful and unique buildings, and its diverse culture. A few days earlier I had managed to do a bit of cycling in Moscow, and now we are in St. Petersburg, and it's time to scratch that cycling itch again (when one is crazy about cycling it does get itchy very often 😂).
My buddies had already planned a tour by van to the out-lying area of the city and I had paid my portion of it, about €50. But the weather was a sunny good, and I decided to forgo that van tour and instead go cycling; my payment for the van tour would be forfeited - well that's how crazy about cycling I am. Unfamiliar with the city, I decided to join a guided cycling tour. There was not much choices, and only one company did a cycling tour of the city - i.e. Peters Walk. I opted for their Weekend Cycling Tour priced at 3150.00 ₽ rubles / about 36€ per pax (see their FaceBook page at "St. Petersburg Bike Tours"). How I wish that they have this ride on weekdays too, then I could have gone the next day and did not have to forfeit the van tour. Well.... when the cycling bug bites, it bites hard!

Cycling Distance: 18km.     |     Level: Easy
(Note the route plotted, is a close estimation of the actual route using Google Direction Maps)
The route will cover some of the renown places of St. Petersburg, but it will also go to the outlying areas of the city crossing over to adjacent islands via bridges over the Neva River (Нева́) and Malaya Neva River (Ма́лая Нева́, Little Neva). At the busy city centre, cycling was on the wide pavements or through parks; whilst at the outskirts it was along quieter side roads, alleys, and even through courtyards and gardens of public housing. The route is rather flat and easy and the only climb were over bridges.

An eager beaver I was, arrived early at Berthold Center, didn't see any other patrons at the centre court, so I popped into the tour-bike office/store which was tucked at one corner of the centre. There I saw Pasha (their bike mechanic and later our sweeper) who was getting the bikes ready. The bikes they used were Shulz folding bikes with wheel diameters ranging from 22", 20" and 16". I opted for the 20"; deciding to leave the two or three available 22" for other taller patrons. The Schulz bikes are made in St. Petersburg and although relatively heavy, they are solidly strong and stable too.

Our route would take us along some of the wider roads at the outskirts, which surprisingly were light in traffic, perhaps it was because it's a Sunday. Along the way, often we stopped at several places of interest where our guide Zhenya revealed interesting facts about these places.

But more often than not, we were cycling on wide and deserted pavements; and like all things Russian, these are big. By big of course I mean wide! We even rode through the grand portal of an old palace, on the way to the Academy of Arts Building (far in the distance).
(Note: many of the description here are courtesy of "St. Petersburg Bike Tours" annotations of photos that I had posted earlier").

Riding across the Blagoveschensky Bridge for some of the best city views. The bridge takes one across the Neva to Vasilivesky Island.
We rode across bridges spanning the Neva River (Нева́) and Malaya Neva River (Ма́лая Нева́, Little Neva). I was most happy to see the word "Malaya" being repeatedly used in many road signs and other names.... until I found out that "Malaya" did not refer to the Peninsula Malaya of my beloved country Malaysia. It actually the Russian word малая, which means "small". There goes my ego; but come to think about it, Malaya when compared to Russia is a small place. But don't get me wrong, although comparatively a small country, Malaysia is a colourul country of diversified people and cultures, a country that is Truly Asia; and many Russians have come visiting.

Then we were onto pathways running along the waterfront on Vasilievsky Island. Fabulous views all along the way, the best in the city. This was along the Lieutenant Schmidt Embankment, viewing eastwards towards St. Isaac's Cathedral (the building with the golden dome across the river).

Not only did we cycle across parks like Saint Isaac’s Square and the Senate Square, we also rode along the shady central walkway of the pedestrian street between 6th and 7th Liniya, a busy commercial centre of Vasilievsky Island.

We went passed several majestic buildings such as the Prince Menshikov Palace (Меншиковский дворец).

But it's not the wide main roads and boulevards that draws me, it's the eerily quite side lanes and back alleys that interested me. Often it's these that reveals the heart of a city.
We rode on cobble stones here, but the sturdy Shulz took them on easily and comfortably.

And these alleys led on to more surprises: beautiful archways leading into backyards that reveal a fascinating inner soul of old St. Petersburg. Some of these were gated but not locked.

These slowly reveal to us the narrow lanes running through the courtyards of buildings.....

..... and even into the gardens of these apartments. Herein lies the fascinating inner secret world of the old city - the hidden courtyards, many of which are actually courtyards of public housing.

We stopped at one of these courtyards. Here Zhenya explained to us that the city is slowly evolving. Many of these public apartments have now been bought up by the owners, while others are still tenanted public housing. The above photo shows private and public apartmenst side by side, the ones on the left with the better windows and paintwork are the private apartments.

The golden dome of St. Isaac's Cathedral just ahead.
Of course a cycling tour would not be complete without visits to a city's interesting spots, spots that would tell us the history and culture of a place. We visited several tourists spots, most of which we viewed from outside; this would be just a teaser for us, dangling a sweet bait for us to come later and spend more time at any particular place that caters for the individual's preferences.
We started off with a ride into Saint Isaac’s Square to catch the beautiful blooms that were brightfulling coming out on this sunny spring morning. The flowers included tulips of different colours: yes, tulips can be seen in many places other than Holland. In fact, tulips originated from Turkey and easily migrated up north to Russia.
Then it was a quick pass of St. Isaac's Cathedral, that currently functions as a museum. It is dedicated to Saint Isaac of Dalmatia, a patron saint of Peter the GreatThe neoclassical exterior expresses the traditional Russian-Byzantine formula of a Greek-cross ground plan with a large central dome and four subsidiary domes. During World War II, the dome was painted over in gray to avoid attracting attention from enemy aircraft.

Next was the The Bronze Horseman. How humble of them to describe one of their greatest rulers as just a horseman. This horseman is none other than Peter the Great, who expanded the Tsardom into a much larger empire that became a major European power. He led a cultural revolution that replaced some of the traditionalist and medieval social and political systems with ones that were modern, scientific, Westernised and based on the Enlightenment. Peter's reforms made a lasting impact on Russia, and many institutions of the Russian government trace their origins to his reign.

At the Quay With Sphinx - is a quay at the Universitetskaya Embankment, fronting the Imperial Academy of Arts. It is remarkable for the two ancient sphinxes that were brought from Egypt to Russia at the height of Egyptomaniain in 1832. The quay was completed in 1834. These sphinxes are about 3500 years old. They were made from syenite and initially were in front of a magnificent temple, which was built in Egypt near Thebes (Luxor) for the 18th dynasty pharaoh Amenhotep III.
Dang these are very old indeed, and suddenly this AhPek old man felt younger.

Further along was one of the most beautiful church of in the city - the Optina Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. The best thing is that it's off the tourist radar and very few tourists make it here. We went in for a quick look but out of courtesy did not take any photos inside as a Sunday mass was ongoing.

Unlike its more famous sister church, the Church of Saviour on Spilled Blood, this Optina Church is an active one. This time there was a massive religious procession outside the church and we stopped to see it.

While the procession was going on, our bikes were happily tucked agains one of the beautiful old walls of the church.

The first city tram was a horsecar (called a Conca). Its monument is still standing on Vasilyevsky Island as seen above. In 1860, horse-drawn trams began running in St. Petersburg and horse-railroads were extended all over the city and citizens liked them, despite their relatively low speed, which didn’t exceed 8 km/h.

While the rest of the riders were admiring a plaque paying tribute to Dr Mendeleev at the front of the University of St Petersburg. I was more taken in by this statue of a vibrant swooping young angel holding up the torch of knowledge. The good doctor was renown for creating the Perioidic Table of Elements whilst working at the premises of this school.

The Old Saint Petersburg Stock Exchange  - "The original St. Petersburg Stock Exchange, built in the 1730s, was wooden. Work began in 1783 on a new stone building by renowned architect Giacomo Quarenghi, but his oval design proved unpopular. In 1804, soon after the building was finished, it was demolished to make way for the present building, designed by Frenchman Thomas de Thomon, who is said to have modeled his designs on the Temple of Hera at Paestum".

Nearby were the Rostral Columns, standing on the Strelka ("spit") of Vasilyevsky Island. "For over two centuries, they have formed an integral part of the city's central panorama over the River Neva, and are particularly impressive on major public holidays, when torches are lit on top of them. St. Petersburg's main port was once located at this point where the River Neva (Нева́) splits in two - the bigger Bolshaya Neva (Больша́я Нева́) and smaller Malaya Neva (Ма́лая Нева́). During the planning of Birzhevaya Ploshchad in 1810, the decision was taken to install two beacons indicating the two channels. Jean-Francois Thomas de Thomon, the architect, decided to build the towers in the style of Roman rostral columns - victory columns on which the prows ("rostra") of captured enemy ships were mounted."

Riding across the Kronverkskiy Most (Кронверкский мост), a bridge with an interesting timber structure that spanns over the Kronverksky Strait (Кронверкский пролив), a narrow channel separating Petrogradsky and Zayachy islands. Zayachy island is where the Peter & Paul Fortress stands. On the other side of the fort is the Ioannovskiy Most, another similar wooden bridge but one with nice old steel railings.

In the compound of the the Peter & Paul Fortress (Петропавловский собор), the very tall and needle-like spire of the Peter and Paul Cathedral makes the place very distinct and easily recognisable.
The cathedral is the burial place of all Russian tsars from Peter I to Alexander III, with the exception of Peter II and Ivan VI. The remains of Nicholas II and his family and entourage were re-interred there, in the side chapel of St. Catherine.

We cross back to Petrogradsky via the Ioannovskiy Most, it overlooked narrow sandy beaches that have become among the most popular in St. Petersburg. And often on sunny days many can be seen sunbathing on the green lawn next to the beaches.

With a quick turn we were onto the Trinity Bridge, which takes us acroos the Neva back to the mainland. The bridge is one of nine drawbridges that are raised every night (actually during the wee hours of the morning) to let river traffic trrough. Many tourists gather to see the raising of these bridges. For the schedule of the time the bridges are raiesed, click here.

At the Field of Mars, like attentive students we formed an arc to listen to Zhenya's insights on the place:
"The field was a former military drill ground until the February Revolution of 1917, after which it  became a memorial area, used to bury the revolution's honoured dead. On 6 November 1957, an eternal flame was lit in the centre of the park, in memory of the victims of various wars and revolutions. The flame was the first in Russia. From here, the flame was delivered to Moscow in 1967 and was placed near Kremlin wall on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The flame from the Field of Mars also burns at the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery and at other memorials in St. Petersburg".

A visit to St. Petersburg is incomplete without a visit to the Church of Saviour on Spilled Blood. It is an odd name for a church, but spilled blood was actually the reason why this church was built. See, the church was erected on the site where political nihilists fatally wounded Emperor Alexander II in March 1881.

As we rolled throught the etrance porch of the Atlanty Statues; people could be seen touching the feet of the statues to bring them luck and have their wishes come true.
Guessed what I wished for? To win a lottery and be rich, or at least win a bicycle in a lucky draw? No.... I wished that I could come visit Russia more often in the future.
By the way, the green building in front is a side annex of the Winter Palace.

We looped back to the historcal core of the city, riding onto the large compound of the Kazan Cathedral, which is dedicated to Our Lady of Kazan, one of the most venerated icons of the country.

We were almost at the end of our tour, ahead was the Dom Knigi, also known as the Singer Company Building as it was built by that company. They wanted a building similar to the skyscraper that was then being constructed for them in New York. However St. Petersburg's strict building codes dictated that no building could be higher than 23.5 meters at the cornice. Despite these limitations, the architect Pavel Syuzor managed to create a supremely elegant building that captured the spirit of the age, and featured a number of technological innovations. It was the first building in the city to use a metal frame, which made possible the huge windows on the ground floor. Another first was the glass-roofed atrium, and the building was equipped with the latest lifts, heating and air-conditioning and an automatic system for clearing snow from the roof. It is now a bookstore.

On the road that led back to the Berthold Center. a fierce looking modern-day mural jolted me from the revelry of the city's past back to the present; it had been a wonderful tour, an eye-opening one that revealed much more of the city.

Many thanks to Pasha, for patiently taking care of this old man who had stopped all too often to take many photos. Many thanks too to Zhenya for guiding us onwards, and for all the interesting talks at the various spots.

I not only left one of my stickers on the Shulz bike .... I had left a part of my soul in St. Petersburg.

До свидания
(that's "Do svidaniya", Goodbye, until we meet again!)

Click here for the Map My Ride tracking of the actual route.
Click here for a Relive of our St. Petersburg Cycling Route.
For more photos of the ride, Click Here.

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